In Defense of Western Civilization

As September 11th approaches, it is a fitting time to consider the true nature of the societies that collided that day in 2001.  We must assert the moral superiority of Western civilization, or lose it entirely.
Marsha-enright

As September 11th approaches, Americans remember the morning in 2001 when the World Trade Center turned to rubble. It is a fitting time to consider the nature of the civilizations that collided that day — and how to defend ours.
 
In their quest to establish a worldwide caliphate, radical Islamists invoke morality, claiming they have God’s sanction for performing their barbarous acts.
 
To defend Western civilization, we, also, need to invoke morality. But although the world envies the wealth we’ve achieved, it is widely seen as the product of soulless materialism, of unbridled “greed,” of unscrupulous self-indulgence.
 
What moral claim, then, can we make for our way of life?
 
To understand the moral values of the West, let’s turn to its beginning. In her prescient 1943 work of political philosophy, The God of the Machine, Isabel Paterson chose as the symbol of Western man a figure from Ancient Greece: Pytheas. This enterprising merchant left his homeland to explore Britain and beyond, seeking tin to make bronze. Insatiably curious, Pytheas also discovered the relationship between the moon’s phases and the tides, and was the first to describe the aurora and other phenomena.
 
Pytheas epitomizes the Western spirit: a self-directed man whose free will determines his life’s course, a thinker who employs reason and science to understand the world around him, and a producer who seeks to sell goods in peaceful trade.
 
From its founding, America was intended to be the country where Pytheas could flourish — the first nation established to protect the life, liberty, and property of the individual. It did so by curbing government power over the peaceful activities of its citizens.
 
In this, the contrast between America and radical Islam could not be greater.
 
Whereas Thomas Jefferson exhorts us to “Question with boldness even the existence of a God,” militant Islam kills people for apostasy.
 
Whereas James Madison proclaims a man has “a right to his property” and equally “a property in [all of] his rights,” Palestinian Islamists strap suicide belts on five year-olds, seizing their young lives to fight ancient vendettas.
 
Whereas the Declaration of Independence affirms America’s devotion to life, Osama bin Laden declares: "We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the difference between us two."
 
“The excellence of the West” lies in its “respect for the human being, the recognition of his individuality, the liberty it has granted him,” observes Saudi Shura Council member and Muslim reformist Ibrahim Al-Buleihi.
 
“Humans are originally individuals,” he continues, “but cultures (including Arab culture) have dissolved the individual in the tribe, sect, or state.” It is only “with the diffusion of philosophical ideas from [Ancient] Greece” that “the human being became an individual of value for himself . . . and not merely a means for others.” (Profile of Al-Buleihi, The Aafaq Foundation, July 6, 2010)
 
Thus, in our civilization, a person is born free to live for his own sake and to pursue happiness. In radical Islam, a person must obey a central authority and sacrifice his life to its aims. Which society is better?
 
Granted the West’s superiority, why is radical Islam advancing? Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, cites “an active propaganda campaign” in which “the Saudis invested at least $2 billion a year over a 30-year period to spread their brand of fundamentalist Islam.” (Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010)
 
Why aren’t we passionately defending our civilization? Certainly, money isn’t the obstacle. Is it because we don’t understand the nobility of our individualist foundation, including the virtue of private advancement and profit?
 
We must never forget that we carry the legacy of Pytheas: a people of free will, free minds, and free enterprise. Our spectacular prosperity is not our dishonor, but the glory of our liberty.
 
It is said that Ground Zero is “sacred ground.” In truth, all of America is sacred ground — because the individual is sacred here.
 
We must assert the moral superiority of our civilization — or lose it to our enemies.
 



Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States. Gen LaGreca is author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today.

10 comments from readers  

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Andrew S
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While I agree that Western civilization is more conducive to human life and happiness than Islam, it's not clear to me what exactly is meant by "asserting our superiority." To whom should we assert this superiority, and what would doing so be intended to accomplish?

Rather than celebrating the nobleness of our roots (and I do think they're noble), perhaps we might focus more on improving our integrity in the present. By my observation, such integrity is sorely lacking, in domestic matters, in cultural matters, and in matters of so-called national defense.

Destroying states that attack us or serve as breeding grounds for terrorists who attack us -- if we would limit ourselves to that simple retaliatory principle -- would take care of the terrorists. It would also leave us more energy for genuine self-improvement.
Small
The west, such as it is, is failing because it doesn't live up to any of the virtues you extol. Far from self-direction, independence, and respect for the equal rights of man, the governments of the west - and the U.S. and Britain in particular - have made their idols rapine, murder, and enslavement both at home and abroad. Forget them; they're not our civilization (we being free and sovereign individuals), and the faster we abandon them the faster we can regain both moral authority and our own rights. The only real tragedy is that innocent and virtuous people get mixed up with the parasitic political class and murdered in their place by their equally despicable victims and opponents.
Small
Spot on, beautifully expressed.

You leave to the reader answering your question, "Why arenâ??t we passionately defending our civilization? Certainly, money isnâ??t the obstacle. Is it because we donâ??t understand the nobility of our individualist foundation, including the virtue of private advancement and profit?"

Clearly understanding the answer to your question is the sine qua non of saving civilization. And it's as obvious as was The Purloined Letter!!!
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Thank You

This was a truly wonderful article, and recommended reading for students of history, philosophy and politics, I do wish there were more citations however.
Small
Equally critical: we must not define others, even religious others, as collectives with homogenous principles and ideas. They are all individuals with natural human rights.

Nor should we idealize our own society as a perfect exemplar of moral fortitude and excellence. We are not "America", we are individuals who have achieved some degree of liberty, threatened as much by Americans as Arabs.

Finally, we should not single out any religion, whether they have "radical extremists" among them or not. All religions are equally destructive and perverse. Islam propounds exactly the same perverse ideals and supernatural promises as Christianity.

What we need to recognize is that the most radical religious advocates are *correctly* living out their religious principles and traditions. It is only hypocracy and skepticism that gives Americans a more sane disposition toward liberty.
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Many proud nations underestimated Islam until it conquered and aborbed them like the Borgs in Star Trek. In past centuries a non-Muslim nation didn't understand what was attacking them, but in the era of the Internet there's no excuse. Take the Historyscoper's free online Islam history course and master all the key facts about Islam, its history, ideology and terminology at your own pace at http://go.to/islamhistory
Small
Excellent and inspiring article. Loved the Pytheas angle from Isabel Patterson's book.

And it is wonderful to hear of someone discussing the *moral* superiority of Western values of individual rights and prosperity.
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It is the assertion, by so many of the â??Politically Correctâ? crowd, who want to give the same rights and respect to the Muslimâ??s belief in conversion by the sword as they do to Christianityâ??s conversion by Missionaries. There is and always will be a huge difference! Any group, who holds as a tenet of their belief system, the right to, through use of force, coerce others to embrace their beliefs should not have the right to exist in a free society. One of the founding principles of these United States is freedom of religion and therefore, it must logically follow that a religion which holds as one of its core beliefs the exclusion of any other religion should not be allowed to exist here.

Unless and until Islam is prepared to change these words in its Koran we should not allow this religion within our borders of freedom as a recognized religion. It is a cult which seeks to use the force of dogma to restrict the freedoms, not only of other religions, but also of any who claim no religion at all. This is not a religion but a form of enslavement which robs all individuals of choice but in doing so robs them also of responsibility.
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Wow. This must be the most concisely written, thought- and action-provoking article I've read in a long time. How clear their thinking is; how important it is to provide us an image of a person whose attributes reflect our American morality. Wonderfully done...thank you.
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If 10% of Americans lived and believed as we (Objectivists), America would be infinitely more prosperous. When Marsha asks: "Why aren't we passionately defending our civilization?, I assume by "we" she means: "our politicians and media" because they speak for us. The answer to her question should be obvious, if extremely difficult to accept for most freedom lovers. The public does not share her philosophy. Ayn Rand discovered this when she became politically active. Most people are collectivists or confused philosophically. After 100+ years of government indoctrination in public schools the ability of the average citizen to think is nil.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.